Friday, July 29, 2011

Commemoration of J.S. Bach: composer, church musician, Lutheran

This is a repost from Pastor Paul McCain's blog: Cyberbrethren. Yesterday was the commemoration of our revered composer, musician and Lutheran, J.S. Bach. As a former music teacher I had to share. Bach is the reason why I end my posts the way I do. Enjoy.

Jesu Juva, Soli Deo Gloria

"Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted of all composers past and present in the entire western world. Orphaned at the age of ten, Bach studied with various family members but was mostly self-taught in music.

He began his professional career as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant at age 19 in the town of Arnstadt. He traveled wherever he received good commissions and steady employment, ending up in Leipzig, where the last 27 years of his life found him serving as Kantor, responsible for all music in the city’s four Lutheran churches.

Acclaimed more in his own time as a superb keyboard artist, the majority of his compositions fell into disuse following his death, which musicologists use to date the end of the Baroque Period and the beginning of the Classical Era. However, his compositional ability was rediscovered, in large part due to the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn. The genius and sheer magnitude of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. Also, whether due to nature or nurture, he was but one of the giants in, perhaps, the most talented musical family of all time.

Christendom especially honors J. S. Bach, a staunch and devoted Lutheran, for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church, glorifying God and edifying His people. For an overview of the Christological basis of his work and a strong argument that he was among the theological giants of Lutheranism, please read J. S. Bach: Orthodox Lutheran Theologian?.

Today we remember his “heavenly birthday,” for it was on 28 July AD 1750 that the Lord translated Mr. Bach to glory.

Soli deo gloria — To God alone the glory! These words appear on most manuscripts of Bach’s compositions as testimony to his faith and his idea of music’s highest, noblest use.

A friend, Mr. Bob Myers, drew this to my attention. It would be best for you to watch this while it still remains up on YouTube. This is a recent documentary that offers a fairly good overview of the Reformation and the work of J.S. Bach as the servant of the Lutheran Church that he was, laboring away in near obscurity, using limited resources. It’s kind of quirky, in a typically British way. It is good that it focuses on the music as Bach actually wrote it and for the purpose he wrote it. Everyone is familiar with Bach’s instrumental works, but in fact his massive cycles of Church cantatas are his greatest achievements. This documentary “gets it” as well, if not better, than anything I’ve seen before. There are some great scenes filmed in St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg; St. Thomas, Leipzig, and St. George, Eisenach. The churches are not always clearly identified. It’s a shame they didn’t subtitle the chorales and cantatas as they were sung. But that’s often the way it is: people focus more on the music and not the words, which, to Bach, were the most important reason why he wrote his music. The Word of God was conveyed by Bach’s music in powerful ways, but it is not the music, per se, that is the thing, it is the Word of God, and … most importantly and significantly of all Bach was interested in conveying Christ and Him crucified. This aspect of his work is hinted at but never specifically articulated. We can only assume the American Lutheran pastor who is interviewed in this piece did explicitly confess Christ, but his remarks were edited out. That’s usually how it is with Bach. People grow increasingly uncomfortably the more specifically Christian the talk gets. But Bach’s great church music was all about Christ. They can’t help but tell us that when they feature the popular chorale from Bach’s Cantata 147,  Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Renowned actor and former chorister Simon Russell Beale explores the flowering of Western sacred music in this documentary series for BBC FOUR. Simon’s travels bring him to Germany where Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation led to a musical revolution and ultimately to the glorious works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Luther, a Catholic monk who was also a composer, had a profound effect on the development of sacred music. He re-defined the role of congregational singing and the use of the organ in services. Crucially he also developed the hugely important tradition of singing in the vernacular which would characterize protestant worship for the next 500 years. Martin Luther’s reforms – and the century and a half of music that followed – shaped the world of JS Bach. Although today he is considered by many to be one of the greatest composers in history, in reality Bach spent most of his life working for the church and unknown to anyone outside of a small part of Germany. Simon’s journey includes Eisenach, in Eastern Germany, where Bach was born and the extraordinary space of the Thomaskirke in Leipzig where the composer spent much of his career. Here he discovers how Johann Sebastian Bach was in many ways a one man music factory, who for many years produced for the church work of the very highest quality, week after week after week. Bach wrote over a thousand pieces of music, and nearly two thirds of them he produced for the Lutheran Church. Throughout the programme, in the period setting of St George’s Lutheran Church in East London, conductor Harry Christophers leads singers from ‘The Sixteen’ and a small group of baroque instrumentalists through some of the key repertoire – including: ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’, one of Bach’s most celebrated religious works, which is based on a Lutheran hymn tune.

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:
Part 5:
Part 6:
HT: Bob Myers."

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

LSC Wednesdays #1: The 10 Commandments

Here's the start of short series of Wednesday postings taking us through Luther's Small Catechism.


As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household

The First Commandment
You shall have no other gods.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The Second Commandment
You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

The Third Commandment
You shall sanctify the holy day.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.

The Fourth Commandment
You shall honor your father and your mother ‹that it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth›.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not despise or anger our parents and masters, but give them honor, serve them, obey them, and hold them in love and esteem.

The Fifth Commandment
You shall not murder.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].

The Sixth Commandment
You shall not commit adultery.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may lead a pure and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.

The Seventh Commandment
You shall not steal.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor get them with bad products or deals, but help him to improve and protect his property and business.

The Eighth Commandment
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, ‹think and› speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.

The Ninth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not craftily seek to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or obtain it by a show ‹of justice and› right, or any other means, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

The Tenth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his cattle, or anything that is his.
What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God so that we may not turn, force, or entice away our neighbor’s wife, servants, or cattle, but urge them to stay and ‹carefully› do their duty.

Answer: He says:

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments. [Exodus 20:5–6]

What does this mean? Answer: God threatens to punish all who sin against these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 317
Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Layperson And Theology: Where's A Good Place To Start?

It was a few days following the celebration of the birth of our risen Savior, during the second year of being married to my beautiful bride (mother of our twin daughters, child number three is now on the way) and as is always predictable during the Christmas season, my family's conversation swung the way of Theology. At that particular time I new it wasn't going to be too far off in the distant future that my wife and I  were going to start having children. This combination lead to the conviction that I needed to be sure of my understanding of theology so that I could properly instruct my family when the time came. Oh, sure, I had some grasp of it, but I wanted to be able to answer the questions of my wife and the future questions of my children. And if I didn't know the answers right then, I wanted to be sure that I'd be able to at least know where I could find the answers.

A few days later I was back at my parent's house, in my father's office, perusing the countless books on his shelves. So I asked my father, a Confessional Lutheran, "Dad, besides the Bible, 'cause that's a no-brainer, what are the next couple of books that every Christian should have?" (Now, years later, I would ask "books that every Lutheran should have?")

So here's a list of books and resources for the layperson that I have benefitted much from, as well as some other suggestions from others.

1. The Bible (duh) (ESV) (The Lutheran Study Bible)
2. Book of Concord. (I suggest 'Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions' as it as a Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord)
3. Walther's "Law and Gospel" (This book turned my world upside down, which was needed. This is a MUST-HAVE. Many thanks go to my father for making sure that this was one of the first theology books that I ever bought.)
4. Forde's "On Being a Theologian of the Cross" (Think we're doing good stuff? We're not. What makes good works good? Forde does a great job of explaining this.)

Digging Deaper:
Pieper's "Christian Dogmatics"
Mueller's "Christian Dogmatics"

Horton's "Christless Christianity"
Watson's "Doctrine of Repentance" (Puritan)

Podcasts and Such:
Issues Etc.
Worldview Everlasting
The Great Exchange
White Horse Inn

Pastor Fisk's Suggestions (Worldview Everlasting)

Why Theology for the Layperson?
Guys, it is VERY important that we understand our theology, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of our families. As husbands and fathers God gave us a responsibility to instruct and lead our families.

As a child we did not attend a Lutheran church. We attended an evangelical one, even though my father was and still is a Confessional Lutheran.  Despite that, he saw to the baptism of me and my brothers, taught me about communion and my father personally took me through the blue 1943 edition of Luther's Small Catechism and taught me the significance of 2 Timothy 2:15 to "...rightly dividing the Word of truth..." (Law and Gospel) I have Walther, Pieper, Mueller and Lenski on my shelves because of him. He's a layperson and was my first theology teacher. He taught me not in a classroom, but in his office, at our kitchen table, in our beat up truck on the way to and from the farm and in the middle of fields while fixing farm machinery. I'm saved because of Christ. I'm Lutheran because of my father. Thanks Dad.

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


The highly anticipated Episode #1: "Law and Gospel" from The Great Exchange is finally here. Click this link to listen to Episode 1

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To Be An Awesome Father

This is from the folks at Lutheran Satire. It's funny and yet reminds us men of the responsibility that we have as fathers. Enjoy!

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Candle Sheds Light On Decision: Evangelism, Part the First

I've heard the arguments. "You must decide to follow Jesus and ask him into your heart to be saved" vs. "Jesus saved me." Notice the difference in these two statements as to who is performing the action of the verbs.

After much consideration of how to tackle this one, I think I shall do so like this. I believe that it is quite possible that we aren't considering all things, and as a result, misunderstanding what it is that we are seeing.

Example (with context of the Word as a means of Grace): Skippy has gone to a revival (actually, it's an evangelistic meeting since only God can bring about revival and it's not something that we can schedule) and he hears the evangelist. Skippy hears about how he has sinned (Romans 3:23), was born sinful, wants to sin, there's absolutely nothing that Skippy can do to get rid of his sin and the punishment for that sin is eternal separation for God's love (Hell) where he will forever experience God's wrath (His anger times a million infinity squared) which is Skippy's rightful punishment. (The evangelist just served Skippy some 100 proof Law) Skippy feels the full weight of this, his pride is broken and he experiences contrition for his sinful life. But what to do? Skippy knows he can't do anything to get rid of his sin.

The evangelist continues on and tells Skippy about the person and work of Christ. About how Christ was God's one and only Son who was perfect, willingly took Skippy's punishment, had to shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22), was crucified, died, buried and resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  And Jesus did this for Skippy because Skippy will never be able to do it for himself. (The evangelist just served Skippy the Gospel, the Good News of Christ for Skippy) The evangelist then quotes a verse like John 3:16 or Acts 16:31 (leaving off the tail end that says "...both you and your household." because few like to tackle explaining that part) saying "...Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved..." Then the evangelist takes a page from Finney and has people raise their hands and them come forward to "ask Jesus into their hearts". Skippy raises his hand and goes forward when instructed. Skippy and the other people pray some form of a sinner's prayer and are then told that they are saved.

First of all I want it understood that with what I'm about to say, I am not knocking prayer. Prayer is always good. What I appreciate about a "sinner's prayer" is the acknowledgement of what a person is. A helpless sinner in need of a savior. That's good, because the Law has done it's work in that person's life and the Holy Spirit has brought that person to a place of contrition.

So when was Skippy saved? In this example, was it when he prayed the sinner's prayer to "ask Jesus into his heart?" To answer this question I'm going to use a concept from Thomas Watson, a puritan. He uses it in a slightly different way, but the context remains the same. 

There's a dark room, no light whatsoever. There are no windows in this room, just the open door that leads into it. A light starts shining into the room from the open door. The light gets brighter and brighter until someone carrying a candle enters into the room. So the question is, what was there first? The light or the candle? It was the candle that was there first, though, we did not see the candle first. We saw the effects of the candle first. We saw it's light first, despite the fact the candle was there first.

So back to Skippy. When was he saved? When he first had faith and believed. That faith came from hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) We first saw Skippy raise his hand. We first saw Skippy go up front. We first saw Skippy pray. What we first saw was the effect of faith. Skippy heard the Word of God, had faith and believed. The Holy Spirit was active in Skippy. Skippy was saved before he raised his hand, before he went up front and before he prayed. Because Skippy now believed and the Holy Spirit was active in him, we saw the effects of that faith. Because of faith he raised his hand. Because of faith he went forward. Because of faith he prayed.

That prayer, though misunderstood by many of those who went forward, was not so much to ask Christ into their hearts. Christ was already in their hearts back when they first believed because of having faith as a result of hearing the Word of God. That prayer was actually a prayer of thanksgiving. "I'm a wretched sinner. I cannot do good because I am sinful and I cannot escape this sin. Thank you for forgiving me! Thank you for saving me Jesus! Thank you for taking my place! Thank you for doing this for me!" With salvation, in the context of situations like Skippy's, we see the effect of the candle first, despite the fact that it was because of the candle that we saw anything.
Thank you Jesus for saving me. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for giving me faith.

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, July 12, 2011



While the full episode is still being edited we thought we'd give you a teaser to wet your appetite for the debut of "The Great Exchange: Episode #1 - Law and Gospel". This clip is extra audio footage that you won't find when Episode #1 debuts. So here it is. An example strait from the Bible of Law and Gospel being properly used: "David and Nathan" (CLICK HERE). Enjoy.